Separation of Church and State…of Faith

I admit, I didn’t really “grow up” in the church. I went to vacation bible school many summers and was a part of a couple of youth groups and for awhile, my parents and I went to service at Fairburn United Methodist Church on many Sundays. I wasn’t unfamiliar with church. I had a decent amount of exposure. I just wasn’t a full-fledged “church person.” That was largely a result of my dad’s influence. He was very clear on his opinion that church often stood in the way of a relationship with God. One of his sayings was, “The biggest obstacle between man and his God is organized religion.” For a long time, I didn’t really understand that sentiment. I understood the words, but not in any really meaningful way. It stayed in the back of my head throughout childhood. Then, when I was 16, those words became real to me.

I was regularly attending youth nights at a sizable church in the town where I attended high school. I remember it being a good time and I think I got some good stuff out of it. But you see, I was still not baptized at that point and the pastor of that church approached me about it as well as about attending on Sundays and bringing my family. We began talking and he began selling and I immediately became resistant. I don’t like to be sold to. In fact, it’s one of the fastest ways to make me dislike a person and that has been true all my life. I don’t like to be pushed into anything. But, I listened respectfully. Until he got to a point in his preaching where he tried to convince me that I couldn’t have a relationship with God unless I went through the church.

To say I was immediately incensed is an understatement. He was telling me, in his preacherly way, that to get to God, I had to go through him. Oh. Hell. No. I let him have it. I explained to him that graduating from seminary and leading a church did not make him any better than me nor did it give him special privileges with or access to God.

Today, that preacher is still around and plenty of people fall all over him but I’m not one of them. I have no respect for him. It still gets my dander up when I think about it. Because, the net result was, that conversation turned me away from religion. And, for a long while, God.

In later years, I did put a toe back into the church waters and I was eventually baptized. When I was ready. But my underlying feelings on organized religion never really changed. I went for years waffling back and forth and eventually, I found a church where I felt very comfortable and I’ve had a pretty steady, healthy relationship with organized religion for a few years. I seemed to reach a realization with myself that church isn’t always about what you get out of it but what you can offer and that even though I may be at a bit of odds with it, I still have something to contribute on a larger scale.

But, I find myself back in that place again. having a real distaste for organized religion. Because, you see, it’s comprised of people. Fallible people, judgmental people, pious people, hypocritical people.

Now, I understand those characteristics are present EVERYWHERE, not just the church. We are ALL judgmental and hypocritical and it’s just plain funny when someone judges another for being judgmental – it’s judgment and hypocrisy all rolled into one – what a bargain!

I get that we all pick and choose parts of the Bible and that we all have our hot button issues. I do and you do too. You could say you didn’t but we both know that’s not true. And I guess one of my hot button issues is religious zealotry. Those who want to make sure everyone hears how often they pray and how well they know scripture and how many committees they’re on at church. It’s great to pray. It’s great to know the Bible and it’s great to be involved in helping others. And it’s okay that we know that you do those things. We just don’t want to be beaten over the head with them.

I sit back and think about all the problems I have with organized religion and the church and I can so easily see why the faithless have ZERO use for it. I’m full of faith and have a relationship with God but even I sometimes find myself downright disgusted with organized religion. I can only imagine how those without faith see it.

I fully admit that I’m not intimately familiar with the Bible. I haven’t read it cover to cover and while I know some scriptures and Psalms by memory, I can quote It’s a Wonderful Life with far more accuracy than I can most bible stories. Let me stop right here and ask you if you’re secretly thinking at this point that you’re a better Christian than I am. If so, I personally think you may not be comprehending those Bible verses you rattle off so well. But ok.

Back to the Bible. I happen to think it’s better used as a tool than a weapon but that’s just my opinion, based upon personal experience and observation. I’d actually be interested to know how many people were brought to faith using the tactics I find off-putting. I guess if you’re into being on the receiving end of condescension and guilt, then hallelujah.

And let’s talk about the church itself for a moment. Do we really think that God is pleased that the church is such a political monster? Do we think that God is pleased that churches are such big business-minded entities? I can’t imagine He’s okay with that. We spend so much time trying to make the church benefit us and bend it to our will that we end up kicking God out of it entirely. I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t take kindly to being kicked out of my own house. I’m fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be really pissed about it. And we all know God can get really, really angry.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have personal convictions and boundaries. If the church is going in a direction which is strongly against your morals, then you should probably look for one which better aligns with them. But manipulating and maneuvering others to fit in to your brand of morality, I think, is ill-advised.

I’m not really sure where my relationship with organized religion will go. It’s in a state of flux right now, which is fitting seeing as my church is in a state of flux right now as well. I’d like for us to be at peace with each other and feel comfortable with it but time will tell. I can tell you though that seeing people splashing religious piety all over the place really doesn’t help. Convictions are one thing. Speaking for God is a little something different. He has the authority to condemn me to hell…you do not.

The church (and that includes all of us who consider ourselves a part of organized religion) has a choice – it can be an enhancement or a hindrance and so often, the latter is the result. Either way, the church will not affect my relationship with God. My faith will remain strong because I purposely separate the two entities. Organized religion is earthly. God is not.